Puerto Rico has faced a deluge of flood events in recent years from hurricanes that have been growing stronger and more impactful with climate change. Climate change resilience has therefore become a vital issue in the unincorporated U.S. territory. The Asociación de Residentes de la Margarita (ARLM) in the town of Salinas formed as a neighborhood association composed of residents of three wards in the town, with a mission to provide a better quality of life to its members. Implementation of flood mitigation and energy resilience strategies are primary goals of this mission.
Issues facing the association are topped by the existential problem of recurrent floods. La Margarita is a high-risk area for flooding that has suffered six major flood events (Hugo, Georges, Hortense, January 5, Maria, and Fiona), in which multiple residents lost everything and had to be rescued from their homes with ropes to save their lives. Past flooding has brought flood waters as high as seven feet inside residents’ homes.
One particular home was demolished in order to clear a path for the river through the streets of La Margarita to the Caribbean Sea, but hurricanes coming from the south now cause sea water to flood through the same area. Many of the residents are elderly people living alone who need a resilience plan that enables the community to be prepared to deal with future flooding emergencies.
A related issue is the construction of a telecommunications tower and other structures in a high risk flood area, a struggle that began in 2014 when residents learned of the construction and formed the La Margarita Pro-Welfare Committee in response. The Margarita is a natural drainage area for the Río Nigua, but the base of the tower obstructs the drainage area of the river. This obstruction represents a danger to the life and property of the residents of La Margarita. The electrical installation of the project is also in an area designated by FEMA maps as a floodway where construction of telecommunications towers is prohibited.
Another current issue is the plan to clear a forest and sell a 50 lot area where a wetland and archeological sites are present. The community opposes the development, citing the need for wetland preservation.
“If they remove the forest and build 50 houses, it will be deadly for the community and an obstruction in the floodplain,” ARLM President Wanda Rios says. The Asociación has objected to how the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales approved a permit to remove 78 trees just to take some measurements in the area. The only water resource in Salinas is the aquifer and the forest is a key element of how the aquifer recharges, since the undeveloped land in forests allows water to slowly seep into the ground and recharge aquifers below. Residents feel that the area in question should be used for a new park.
Yet another problem in the community is cancer risk from ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions generated by Steri Tech, a company located in the community that uses the chemical for sterilization of medical equipment. More than 40 cancer cases in the community have been counted, including 10 deaths.
Current Asociación’s projects include the La Margarita Resilience Center, a sustainable community gathering place where education and social services are provided. The Center’s needs include a community garden, renewable energy resources to provide sustainable energy when standard electrical systems are down, backup communications systems, access to water and essential supplies, an emergency preparedness plan, a refrigerator for medical supplies, and Internet access. The Asociación is also working on a solar cooperative that is implementing an energy modernization project.
For more information:
Wanda J. Rios Colorado
Erosion-Subsidence, Flooding, Hurricanes
Environmental Justice Concerns
Air Pollution, Hazardous/Toxic Sites
Fighting Industrial Contamination, Renewable Energy
501c3 Tax Deductible